Although we were heartened to see President Trump nominate an experienced Special Operations officer to serve as the next Senate-confirmed director of the NCTC, we are deeply dismayed — and perplexed — as to why he would simultaneously gut the center’s leadership of critical institutional knowledge. The NCTC’s just-dismissed acting director, Russell Travers, began his career as an Army intelligence officer more than 40 years ago. He stood up the NCTC’s predecessor organization while the embers of Ground Zero still smoldered. He built the terrorism watch list from a set of index cards into the envy of countries around the world (and, it should be noted, as the model for the president’s own aspirational watch list to screen travelers to the United States for threats other than terrorism). Travers and his deputy, a career National Security Agency officer, were the epitome of what we strive for in national security: nonpartisan experts who serve the president and the American people with no regard to personal politics.
Now both are gone, to be replaced by as-yet-unnamed acting heads who will undoubtedly know less and who will be more beholden to the intelligence community’s politicized leadership. The next acting heads might or might not be gone themselves in a matter of months if the president’s nominee is ultimately confirmed. In the meantime, who manages the critical security tasks, including watch-listing and ensuring that the government-wide counterterrorism structure remains well integrated?